“Niwekee chai na ile ugali ya jana” said Juma as he adjusts his belt ready to seat down and enjoy his breakfast. A meal that has to be so heavy enough to take him through the 8 hours of work, manual work to be precise. This vicious cycle is not a choice for Juma. Any extra coin spent means a major disruption in his monthly budget. Picture this, a household he needs to pay rent for, two kids both in their early schooling years, Utility bills to be sorted, some money to be sent back home for ‘black tax’.
Juma’s reality not only denies him a chance to have a decent meal at work, but also subjects him to long walks to and from work.
“Asante sana, wacha niende nikatafute unga” Juma yells to his wife as he bangs the door behind him striding enthusiastically on his way to work. The 45-minute walk is a chance for him to get lost in his thoughts. A chance for him to use the city noise as a soundtrack for his aspirations and forget all his troubles.
As expected, Juma is at work well before 8:00 AM. He changes to his overall and gets his packaging station ready for the hard monotonous and loud machines and processes. Hard work his only slogan. Lift, seal, lift, place, repeat as the hours run down. 12:30 pm, the company siren goes off to signal lunch time. Juma, like most of his friends walk under a nearby tree and discuss football and politics to push the 45-minute lunch break. Lunch is not an affordable option. Here is where the morning ugali comes into play and helps him make it through the rest of the day.
Afternoon session at work of course will be slow for Juma. Random yawns here and there are the order. Output greatly affected but hey, the work is getting done. The day is done, Juma is exhausted. He has not hit hios quota for the day. Much as he tries, his body has given in. He packs up to head out to his next gig as a watchman from 7pm-12am. He does not disclose this to his employer because he knows it will cost him his job but he needs any extra coin he can get.
Does the employer understand how that meal at work would change Juma’s life? Does he know that it does not have to be a crazy budget for him/her to hit 2 birds with one stone? Which birds you ask?, Oone, company profitability will go up as a result of productivity from Juma and his colleagues. Two, Juma’s nutrition will improve making him less absent less often and happier at work. To the employer, it feels like ‘only lunch’ but to Juma, it is lifesaving.
By Hiram Mbogo Maina.